By Jamie McNamara
Lots of us found 2016 to be a particularly taxing year. Killer Mike and El-P (together, Run The Jewels) know this. In their relatively short career together, the duo have shown an innate talent for airing grievances with the current political system, while also providing an outlet for the collective rage from progressives. Their first two albums, and work together on Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, featured songs about police brutality, corrupt politicians, and class struggle with the nuance of a sledgehammer. Luckily, it seems that a sledgehammer is the perfect tool to start off 2017.
In a year that saw a Star Wars film become a political stance, rampant white nationalism, and fascism made great again, Run The Jewels 3 is a much needed reprieve; a 14-track album that is sometimes flawed, but ultimately vital for the road ahead.
Yet, this is not a collection of your proto-woke grandpappy’s protest songs. After all, this is the same duo that gave us the apathetic war cry “Do dope, fuck hope” on Run The Jewels. RTJ 3 is a protest album filtered through beer bongs and a psilocybin haze. Introspective raps come peppered liberally with piss-takes, dick jokes, and a shit-eating grin. If the boat is sinking, at least Killer Mike and El-P are having fun while it’s going down.
Starting with the belligerent “Down (feat. Joi),” the duo make it clear that their brash bombast is The Anarchist Cookbook in album form. With a convincing vocal turn from Killer Mike, it’s a shuffling, bass-heavy track that sounds like A Tribe Called Red production with more trademark-El-P, Definitive Jux flavouring. El-P’s verse is a standout, combining dense wordplay with standard rap fare like: “I’m high man, I’m a cosmonaut. Scream fuck ‘em till they lop our bloody noggins’ off, I promise y’all.”
Still, the best parts of Run The Jewels 3 – that breezy, everyman political commentary, mixed with paranoid stoner jokes and general malaise – also tend to be its downfall. “Talk to Me,” finds Mike rapping like a truther, “On the radio, heard a plane hijacked. Government did that like they cooked crack.” Elsewhere, Mike shouts out Uber while also offering a pro-riot anthem to class struggle on the MLK-sampling “Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost).” While those examples are bad, he redeems himself with his anti-gentrification verse on “Don’t Get Captured,” and his breathless verse on standout-track “Call Ticketron” that may just be the most Atlanta thing ever put to tape since OutKast’s Stankonia.
Run The Jewels 3 isn’t a perfect album, but it deftly walks a thin line between being fun to listen to, and being a compelling piece of political music. In both aspects, it succeeds often enough that it’s hard not to get behind the duo’s middle-fingers-in-the-air political ethos.Run the Jewels, Run The Jewels 3